Friday, September 15, 2017

Galaxy's Edge: Attack of Shadows

Another month, another Galaxy's Edge book!  Anspach and Cole continue to deliver at a remarkable pace, and with remarkable quality!  They also continue to defy expectations by doing something different.  Let me explain a bit...

The tagline or hashtag for Galaxy's Edge has always been #StarWarsNotStarWars.  (You can easily see that vibe on the cover art right there, too.  A Boba Fett looking villain, standing in front of Scout walkers with Republic drop ships coming in over a big, bright moon, etc.)  In spite of that, the first Galaxy's Edge novel, Legionnaire, was not necessarily all that Star Wars like.  I've compared it frequently to the movie Zulu, which has become a real classic tale, told and retold, by now. (One could say that the history of Leonidas is the same story with a more tragic ending.)  If this was Star Wars, why is it the story in the jarhead (buckethead?) life of a stormtrooper, and why are the stormtroopers actually elite commandos rather than ineffective mooks?  It's a great book, but the mil-sci-fi look doesn't really fit Star Wars that well, which was always swashbuckling space opera.  So, it was a risky move.  They've sold and promoted their book as a "fork" of Star Wars—they take the concept of Star Wars, file the serial numbers and I/P off of it, and then tell it the way they think it should have been told, instead of the way Lucas and then later, Lucasfilm did.  There was a risk of audience mismatch there; but the book was good enough that it was successful.

The next volume, Galactic Outlaws was the one that is more specifically Star Wars like.  It's got the fringer space opera vibe down perfectly, with a plot that reminds you of westerns and other influences that directly inspired George Lucas back in the mid-70s.  These characters could absolutely exist side by side with Han Solo, young Luke Skywalker, Chewie, and even old Ben Kenobi (maybe not Clone Wars era Obiwan Kenobi, though.)  It has a similar feel to, especially, the very first Star Wars movie.  And if you've read any of my posts on the Secret History of Star Wars, you'll know that I 100% agree with that direction, if you're going to riff off of Star Wars, riff off of it at the very beginning!  So this one was a much less risky book.  Curiously, ties to the first book are relatively light.  It's clearly the same setting, but we don't (yet) have a sense that any of these characters have anything to do with characters from the first book (although in the next book, we find out that they do, actually.)

The third novel, Kill Team goes back to taking place immediately after the first volume (the second book takes place seven years later.)  This non-linear (or at least non-chronological) story-telling is interesting.  And we get yet another direction with this volume; this time, we've got a space-faring spy thriller.  James Bond meets Jack Ryan in space.  It's another excellent book, and another one that is bold; it does something quite a bit different than what you might expect from #StarWarsNotStarWars.  Nick Cole mentioned, when I asked him on Facebook, that I was totally right in seeing the influence of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold as well.  Of course, the other thing that this novel does, is bring together the seemingly disparate Legionnaire and Galactic Outlaws and demonstrating that they are intimately tied to each other in ways that are sure to surprise and delight readers (well, they did me, anyway.)

So for the fourth novel, what do Anspach and Cole do?  Another bold move; telling a tale in the space-faring version of yet another genre, and utilizing hardly any of the past characters!  Attack of Shadows is the opening move in trouble that's been brewing for three novels, and it describes a single day; one battle, from multiple perspectives.  There's another bold experiment with narrative structure; very short scenes that cut back and forth quickly between each other, showing the same events from multiple angles.  Most of the characters are brand new, and on both sides of the battle; shocktroopers and tri-fighter pilots of Goth Sullus' attacking force, fighter pilots from the Republic, a space-dreadnought admiral, a crooked space politician, etc.  This quick back and forth between characters that we don't know is unique; it was at first a little disorienting, but I learned to settle back and enjoy the flow of the narrative.  This book, more than the ones that preceded it, is about plot and description—the back and forth of a hard-fought surprise attack and major battle, and we get an entire novel describing the events of a single day.  I finished rather quickly, and was left somewhat breathless at the end of the novel.  I need to read it again to better absorb the details, because there were so many of them that I have no doubt that I missed some.  Plus, knowing now what I do having read the whole thing, I want to go do it again with enough context to better see what's going on with characters that I don't know well.  This is similar to how when you've just watched a very complex thriller or mystery movie, you need to watch it again to catch all of the stuff that you didn't realize was going to be important, so you didn't pay enough attention to it.

So, again—they could have blown it by doing something so bold, but yet again they manage not to by doing so skillfully.  I'm pretty pumped after reading what was a really cool battle in what's going to shake up to be a really cool war.  But I've also really had my appetite whetted to get back to the characters that I grew to know over the first three books.  Maybe knowing this (or maybe not; maybe it was just serendipitous luck) there's a three-chapter preview of the next book included at the end (Sword of the Legion) in which we see familiar characters (from both disparate main groups of characters) reacting to the events of Attack of the Shadows.  They go back in time to the beginning of the day, and foreshadow that some of the stuff that was only briefly touched upon in this novel—cameos, really—will be treated in more detail in book five, and our familiar cast will be the stars of this action.  It also foreshadows that one key event which takes place off-stage in this novel, which would seem to be an unaccountable and unforgivable mistake, will actually be the main course of action of the coming book.

So, again: in spite of the fact that so far Anspach and Cole are writing at a faster pace than anyone other than Dean Wesley Smith and his "pulp speed" crowd, I find it difficult to wait for the next novel.  This was an experimental piece, and it packed quite a punch, but most especially, it set up what is to follow.  In fact, that's my only concern (or maybe just question) at this point; if they're really going to tell Galaxy's Edge in 9-10 novels or so, which I seem to remember is what I saw or heard them say, in a podcast most likely, then we're nearly halfway through and the main story has just started!  Of course, maybe this means that they decided to take more volumes to finish it than they originally planned.  Or maybe, we'll skip ahead and then fill in details as desired with spin-offs in the future.  I dunno.   But I do know that I'm excited to continue the journey with them.  This has been a fun ride so far.  I'm glad I was able to get in on the ground floor.

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